Republican U.S. Senate nominee Carly Fiorina said Thursday that she opposes calls from some conservatives to alter the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to all people born in the United States.
Fiorina sought to appeal to conservative voters on immigration issues during her party's primary this spring, strongly backing Arizona's tough new law on illegal immigration, for example. But she drew the line Thursday at the question of denying birthright citizenship — an issue that could be highly controversial among the state's large number of Latino voters.
"I don't think that's a useful dialogue — I don't support changing the 14th Amendment," Fiorina told reporters after speaking to a convention of California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in downtown Los Angeles. "I think what we need to do is have the federal government do its job and secure the border and have a temporary worker program that works. And all the rest of it is a distraction and, unfortunately, an emotional distraction."
For years, some conservatives have argued that the 14th Amendment's citizenship provision does not actually cover children born to illegal immigrants. Others have conceded that the amendment, which was adopted after the Civil War to protect former slaves, does apply and have advocated that it be changed.
Neither argument has gained traction in Congress. But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reinvigorated the debate recently when he said he was exploring changes to the amendment so that it would no longer automatically give American citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.
Graham, who had been a key player in crafting immigration reform legislation, has not formally introduced a proposal. But during an appearance last week on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren," Graham said he is concerned that "thousands of people are coming across the Arizona/Texas border for the express purpose of having a child" and that he would like to prevent "a third wave" of illegal immigration.
With Graham and others raising the possibility of congressional hearings, the issue could keep immigration at the forefront of campaign debate in the months ahead. Both Fiorina, who will face Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer this November, and Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman have expanded their efforts to reach Latino voters in recent weeks, and reconciling their overtures with their conservative stands in the primary is proving to be a tricky issue for both of them.
Whitman's critics have accused her of hypocrisy for proclaiming during the primary that she would be "tough as nails" on illegal immigration, then airing Spanish-language ads highlighting her opposition to the Arizona law and Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot measure that would have restricted taxpayer-funded services to illegal immigrants. On Thursday, Whitman's spokeswoman said she opposed any changes to the 14th Amendment.
Fiorina has steered away from the immigration issue in her direct appeals to Latino voters, instead focusing on her plans for tax cuts and helping small businesses. She has never publicly taken a position on Proposition 187—saying that she did not live in the California at the time — and she has been vague about what steps government officials should take to deal with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country.
When asked by chamber members Thursday about her stance on the Arizona law, Fiorina did not directly mention her support for it.
"I think it is destructive to our national dialogue and to the trust of people, of all people regardless of our points of view, when the temperature gets so high…. Many people are guilty of that on both sides," she said before going into her usual stump speech about securing the border.
Boxer has called the Arizona law "divisive" and said she believes more Latino voters will share her view than Fiorina's. Boxer's campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, said Fiorina's opposition to legislation like the federal stimulus bill would be a problem for her this fall.
"Latinos, like most Californians, are intensely concerned about the economy and job creation," Kapolczynski said Thursday. "Carly Fiorina has opposed every major job creation bill that has been proposed since the recession began."
But some of Fiorina's economic proposals were warmly received at the chamber gathering. She drew applause, for example, for her plan to offer a two-year payroll tax holiday to companies that hire unemployed workers.
Her approach won over John Casas, a Democrat from Moraga who said he had planned to vote for Boxer. "I was impressed with her story," said Casas, who heads an Oakland-based company that handles workers' compensation claims. "Her ideas are very basic and doable."
Mercedes Ortiz, an independent voter who works for an insurance company in Redondo Beach, gave Fiorina points for style and her conversational tone, but said she was supporting Boxer to register her concern about what she described as anti-immigrant rhetoric from Republicans.